The Daschle Problem

Tom Daschle was a bad choice for HHS from the beginning.  I came out against him on the basis of his qualifications to fundamentally change our healthcare system and he remains poorly equipped for that due to his involvement as a lobbyist for the industry.  His newly revealed ethical problems cast a longer shadow on his fitness for this office.  

If someone gave me a Lincoln Town Car and chauffer for my exclusive use I would know, or at least suspect, that this was an enormous perk for which taxes are due.  How stupid is Tom Daschle not to know this or not to inquire into its tax consequences?  This man was the Democratic Leader in the U.S. Senate for crying out loud.  He’s written, analyzed and voted on innumerable tax laws.

Unfortunately for the South Dakotan the legal burden of proof is always on the person to know the law.  It is irrelevant whether or not he knew the law even though most of us would have assumed a $200,000 perk was taxable.  This is the world of the Washington hubris when powerful people adopt a Leona Helmsley attitude that taxes are only for “the little people.”

Daschle is unqualified to be Health and Human Services Secretary because he was a lobbyist for that industry.  Barack Obama promised to rid his Administration of such lobbyists and conflicts of interest.  It hasn’t happened.  You simply cannot change the culture of Washington overnight but the President can go a long way by replacing Daschle with Dr. Howard Dean.

Update:  Daschle has withdrawn his name for consideration as HHS Secretary.

The Republicans Have Nothing to Party About

by Walter and Rosemary Brasch

Every House Republican and 11 Democrats voted against President Barack Obama’s $819 billion stimulus package. It still passed by a vote of 244 to 188.

           There are enough votes in the Senate to pass the bill, but the obstructionist Republican minority, still nursing the wounds inflicted by the public in the November election, can block it by endless political maneuvering and a filibuster.

           The Republicans wail that the President’s stimulus package is laden with spending proposals that don’t directly attack the recession. However, instead of debating the merits of the package, instead of proposing amendments to add to or subtract from the $819 billion, the Republicans ganged up, voted as a bloc, and placed party loyalty above the needs of the nation.  

           These are the same “fiscally responsible” Republicans who weren’t reluctant to give away billions of taxpayer money to Halliburton, KBR, and other corporations favored by the Bush-Cheney Administration. These are the same Republicans who did little to control runaway spending that brought the nation from a surplus when Bill Clinton left office to the largest deficit in the history of the nation. These are also the same Republicans, unfortunately assisted by a large chunk of complicit Democrats, who most assuredly weren’t reluctant to create a $750 billion bailout package that benefited banks, insurance companies, and the Wall Street millionaires of greed, and was lacking adequate oversight or accountability.  

These are the same Republicans who came up with two tax cuts or rebates, most of which helped Big Business, with some chum thrown to the masses before the 2006 and 2008 elections. Rebates, which the Republicans demand be placed in the new stimulus bill, didn’t work then; they won’t work now.

           And, now they oppose President Obama’s plan that would save or create about three million jobs, improve the nation’s infrastructure, provide health care for the uninsured, fund clear-water and environmental projects, provide housing assistance, improve mass transit, provide additional funding for special education programs, and assist both the workers and the nation to recover from a Recession that began more than a year ago.

           The Republicans sniff that the President didn’t take their feelings into consideration. However, unlike the previous “My way or the highway” President, this President met several times with the Republicans, got their advice and concerns, and included some of their suggestions into his proposed legislation. Apparently, the Republicans think bipartisan support means that the minority party must throw temper tantrums until they get everything it wants.

            What these politicians don’t acknowledge is that their constituents, the American people, wanted Barack Obama to become president and lead the nation out of its myriad problems. One week after the inauguration, scientific polls showed President Obama with about a 70 percent popularity rating, the highest of any president in his first week. Only 12 percent were negative-the lowest of any president, and that includes George Washington.

           In his inaugural address, Barack Obama told the nation “the time has come to set aside childish things.” A core of Republicans don’t understand this-they have dug in their heels and like Peter Pan are belting out the verse that they don’t want to grow up.

           If the Republican minority continues to whine, complain, and try to block the nation’s recovery, they will cement their future as defenders of corporate greed and petty politics at the expense of the needs of the people.

           [Rosemary R. Brasch is a former secretary, Red Cross national disaster family services specialist, and labor grievance officer. Walter Brasch is an award-winning journalist and university professor. You may contact him at brasch@bloomu.edu, or through his website, www.walterbrasch.com]

 

Healthcare: The Real Cause of the Economic Collapse

It is generally thought that home foreclosures are the heart of last year’s economic collapse.  Foreclosures soared as homeowners were no able to pay their mortgages and the predatory lenders responsible for these and the Wall Street types who packaged them into toxic securities have been the villains.  This isn’t entirely true however.  Though all these culprits are the vultures as portrayed the real villains are health insurance companies.  

A new study reveals that the underlying cause of these foreclosures was our broken healthcare system.  It was medical bills which triggered the foreclosures.  It was the tens of millions spent by the health insurance industry over decades to block civilized healthcare and triggers 50% of all bankruptcies in America.  The report was researched and written by Christopher Tarver Robertson, Richard Egelhof and Michael Hoke.  Here are some conclusions:

49% of all foreclosures are caused by medical bills

69% of those in foreclosure had serious medical problems in the two years prior to their defaults

33% of those studied had no health insurance (or a spouse), double the average

33.8% of the uninsured households blamed their foreclosure on medical problems

These victims were middle class Americans with full time jobs but no or inadequate health care coverage

This means that about one third of the foreclosures resulted directly from our failed healthcare system.  This was the trigger which sent the economy spiraling into depression.  Until we directly confront these foundational fissures our economy will continue cracking under the load of medical care.  Baby boomers like me are retiring and demand for medical care is spiraling upward at the same time our economy is going into the tank.

We must shore up our failing economy before it is too late.  This means saving homeowners from bankruptcy and foreclosure.  The surest method for that is complete, radical healthcare reform.  Some are favoring an incrementalist approach which involves changing rules and laws which allow insurance companies to deny coverage, care and treatment.  This is a band aid on a cancer and doesn’t solve the underlying law which they cannot replace:  corporations and companies are bound, by law, to act first for their owners and shareholders.  Not their customers.  None of these incrementalist approaches advanced by Healthcare for America Now solve this problem.  None of the rules they seek to change change this foundational fact:  shareholders and owners come first.  Changing that law derails our entire capitalist system and cannot be changed.

Therefore the incrementalist approach is doomed to failure.  You can pass all the laws you want saying insurance companies must provide medical care but they cannot and will not under the most basic law of business.  Repealing that undermines our entire system so it cannot be altered.  

The solution is to rid ourselves of the insurance industry.  Until the profit first motivation is removed people cannot receive adequate, comprehensive healthcare.  Take the profit completely out of who gets medical care, when and where.  When I call my doctor now I get in a line.  I cannot simply walk into an office and see my doctor.  When I call for an appointment I am put into line.  I get to see him when it is my turn.  The only exceptions to this are emergencies and trauma cases when everyone goes back in line for the direst cases.  Universal healthcare does not mean you will be in any lines you aren’t already in.  It does mean you will choose your provider and no bureaucrat will tell you what doctor, what lab, what clinic, what hospital you can visit for care.  It actually opens your choices to any provider unlike our current system where you are forced to use certain providers.  Single payer universal healthcare for all means the only people making your medical decisions are you and your doctor.  It means you get fully comprehensive coverage and care for less money.  It means everybody in and nobody out.  It means saving the economy, keeping people in their homes and extending the quality of life for every American.

State and local governments are being killed by healthcare costs much as homeowners.  Annual increases of 9% are crippling budgets resulting in layoffs for police, fire, school and anyone else in the public sector.  Cutting healthcare costs to 10% of payroll will save jobs and greatly eliminate the deficits facing our public officials.

Why are Ed Rendell, Dwight Evans, Todd Eachus and Keith McCall blocking this solution in Pennsylvania?  When you lose your job and your home remember who caused this meltdown and who blocked the solution.  Remember this when you vote.

Pennsylvania Voice’s Impact on the 2008 Election

Pennsylvania’s non profits had a substantial effect on last year’s election and Pennsylvania Voice, a collaboration of numerous non profit organizations released this report today on that impact.  Disclosure:  I am a Board member of one of these organizations Planned Parenthood Pennsylvania Advocates:

PENNSYLVANIA VOICE REPORTS ON ITS IMPACT ON 2008 ELECTION, REGISTERING NEARLY 300,000 NEW VOTERS, RE-GRANTING 12 NONPROFITS STATEWIDE, AND COORDINATING ELECTION PROTECTION SERVICES

(PITTSBURGH) – Pennsylvania VOICE, a statewide collaborative involving more than 60 organizations dedicated to nonpartisan voter registration and protection efforts, has released a preliminary report detailing its impact on the 2008 elections in Pennsylvania.

Pennsylvania VOICE partner organizations were responsible for registering 294,225 voters across the state during the 2008 calendar year (for the primary and general elections), and awarded 12 Pennsylvania nonprofit organizations a total of more than $40,000 in re-grants to support their work in helping to engage under-participating constituencies in the voting process.

“Because of Pennsylvania’s significant impact on the 2008 Presidential elections, we knew how vitally important it was to involve the state’s citizens and protect their rights to vote,” said Pat Clark, Statewide Coordinator for Pennsylvania VOICE. “This new report we’ve released not only speaks to the breadth and depth of what we were able to achieve as a collaborative, but also provides information we hope voter rights advocates will use to ensure fairer elections in all 50 states.”

The 294,225 voters registered by Pennsylvania VOICE partner organizations make up more than 41 percent of the approximately 711,000 voters registered statewide in 2008, according to Clark.

In addition to its voter registration work, the collaborative coordinated a significant voter protection effort, which included informing voters and media of voter suppression efforts, working with the Secretary of the Commonwealth’s office to resolve questions on voter eligibility and emergency ballots, establishing a website providing publicly-accessible, real-time Election Day reports on voter protection issues through the state, and providing a election protection phone hotline for voters to ask questions and report Election Day issues.

Pennsylvania VOICE monitored nearly 4500 calls on election protection hotlines during Election Day (November 4, 2008), including nearly 1400 reports of voter problems and issues, which were then investigated by collaborative personnel deployed statewide.

“The volume of election protection hotline calls we received speaks to Pennsylvania’s status as a crucial battleground state in the 2008 elections,” said Celeste Taylor, Director of Election Administration and Protection for Pennsylvania Voice. “But, more importantly, it speaks to the high level of awareness we were able to create throughout our campaign.”

“Voters in Pennsylvania were more aware of their rights and more able to recognize voter suppression than in previous election cycles, thanks to the work of our partner organizations, legal counsel, and volunteers,” Taylor noted. “Our diverse collaborative came together with the goal of ensuring Pennsylvania of a truly fair and democratic election, and we’re proud of what they accomplished.”

An important part of Pennsylvania VOICE’s work this election cycle was to help organizations within the collaborative with funding, which it did via a re-granting program. Grantees participated in controlled, scientific evaluations of their work, the results of which will be published by Pennsylvania VOICE, along with final voter turnout numbers, upon publication of the final 2008 voter file by the Pennsylvania Department of State.

The re-grants were part of a Center for Civic Participation project, State Voices, designed to increase voter turnout and protect voter rights in a number of states, including Pennsylvania. According to Pat Clark of Jackson/Clark Partners, statewide consultant for Pennsylvania VOICE, the organizations receiving grants have done significant work in bringing in new voters to the state’s rolls.

“This voter contact is important work,” Clark said. “The groups we partnered with are reaching out to new voters, often with non-voting or underperforming constituencies who rarely if ever are reached by partisan campaigns. These are primarily community service organizations that will succeed in the peer-to-peer contact this effort requires. Those people who often get left out of the process trust these organizations.”

Groups awarded the re-grants (with areas of state served) include:

ACORN (Pittsburgh, Philadelphia)

Cambodian Association of Greater Philadelphia (Philadelphia)

Coalition of Black Trade Unionists (Pittsburgh, Penn Hills, Mon Valley)

Congresso (Philadelphia)

DemocracyRising PA (Statewide)

Just Harvest (Pittsburgh)

Mon Valley Providers Council (Allegheny County, Mon Valley)

Penn Action LLC/Penn Erie (Erie)

Pennsylvania Immigration and Citizenship Coalition (PICC) (Lehigh Valley)

Planned Parenthood Association of PA (Statewide)

Project H.O.M.E./Vote For Homes (Philadelphia)

Women’s Voices. Women Vote (WVWV) (Statewide)

Pennsylvania VOICE, which received a total grant of more than $70,000 for this project, committed to covering more than 400 precincts statewide on Election Day, and training and recruiting volunteers to help with those efforts.

ABOUT PENNSYLVANIA VOICE

Pennsylvania VOICE is a state-based collaborative of over 60 nonprofit, 501c3 partners, formed in 2005 to create and maintain better coordination, information, and communication among nonprofit civic participation organizations. The collaborative’s nonpartisan mission is to engage underrepresented communities and socially responsible voters in the democratic process, develop new leadership from within constituencies and to establish collective action around a shared issue-based agenda.

ACORN Responds to Boehner

From ACORN:

To the Honorable Rep. Boehner,

ACORN is the nation’s largest community organization of low- and moderate-income Americans teaming up to fight for improvements in our communities and in the economy. With more than 450,000 member families across the country, including more than 11,000 in Ohio, we know from the front lines the devastation hitting families as they struggle to keep their jobs and their homes in this economy. We were saddened to hear you recently repeat misinformation and untruths related to ACORN, and we are writing to extend an olive branch and offer to educate you about the real work that ACORN is doing to help your constituents and improve our economy.

In a press release from your office last week, you claimed that the economic recovery package “could open billions of taxpayer dollars to left-wing groups like the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN). ACORN has been accused of perpetrating voter registration fraud numerous times in the last several elections; is reportedly under federal investigation; and played a key role in the irresponsible schemes that caused a financial meltdown that has cost American taxpayers hundreds of billions of dollars since last fall.”

This disappointing slide into gutter politics is replete with incorrect information and false accusations. First, there are no funds in the economic recovery package that are headed to ACORN. Republicans made similar unfortunate claims about how the bailout of the financial industry last year would send billions of dollars to ACORN, which of course was as untrue as this recent accusation from your office, and we have never seen those billions of dollars. Second, the provision you claim would potentially allow ACORN to compete for federal funds is only for $750 million, a much different scale than your mendacious headline claiming we were to receive “billions”. Third, ACORN has not done this work in the past, has no plans to apply for these funds, and did not weigh in requesting the change to the Neighborhood Stabilization Funds allocation to open up a small portion of the funds to a competitive process for non-profits. The Neighborhood Stabilization Fund is a critical, if severely underfunded, federal effort to help those state and local governments hardest hit by the foreclosure crisis to stabilize neighborhoods by acquiring vacant properties and returning them to occupancy.

As to your sillier accusations, ACORN worked assiduously to combat voter registration fraud, implementing a comprehensive quality control system that rooted out and fired employees who tried to cut corners by filling out fake cards. Indeed, we complied with every investigation into our hugely successful non-partisan voter registration drive, and have been commended by election officials and prosecutors for our cooperation in prosecuting those employees who sought to defraud ACORN by taking a paycheck without doing the work. There has never been credible evidence presented of a single vote that was cast illegally because of ACORN’s work, despite intense media scrutiny and partisan rancor. Further, we would love to hear about the “key role” you claim we played in causing the financial meltdown. Since 1999, ACORN has been the nation’s leading opponent to the irresponsible and predatory lending practices that we warned would lead to a foreclosure crisis and economic misery. Had the United State Congress or Federal Reserve heeded our warnings about unchecked predatory lending, we surely would have avoided the worst of the current economic crisis.

As we have for years, ACORN has been working overtime to help families who have been hit hard by this recent and ongoing foreclosure crisis. Back in the Ohio district that you represent, realtytrac.com shows more than 4800 families whose properties entered foreclosure in 2008 alone*. Indeed, the foreclosure problem in your district is so extreme that Butler County Sheriff Jones has set a national precedent in deciding to stop foreclosure-related evictions. Across Ohio, ACORN is working with families who are saddled by unfair mortgages with predatory features and unaffordable terms, as well as organizing neighborhoods to cope with the fallout from the record rate of foreclosures that is leading to increased crime, vandalism, decay, and plummeting property values.

While ACORN is helping families fight to modify their loans to affordable payments and stabilize communities, your voting record in Congress indicates a striking disconnect from these problems. First, in voting against the Foreclosure Prevention Act of 2008 (HR 3221, Roll Call 519), you missed an important opportunity to assist your constituents, one in which 45 members of your caucus voted with the majority, including fellow Ohio GOP Representatives Steve LaTourette, Mike Turner, Dave Hobson, Pat Tiberi, and Deborah Pryce. Second, ACORN was dismayed that you voted against the Mortgage Reform and Anti-Predatory Lending Act (HR 3915, Roll Call 1118), which fully 64 members of your caucus supported, including fellow Ohio Republicans LaTourette, Turner, Hobson, Tiberi, Pryce, and Ralph Regula. For someone who accuses ACORN of contributing to the crisis, it is particularly ironic that you voted against finally enacting some modest regulations on mortgage brokers and lenders, the same regulations we have been demanding for a decade and which would have prevented the crisis we now face.

Instead of continuing to play the petty partisan politics you put on display a week ago with your attack on ACORN, we would ask you to instead champion the needs of the thousands of your constituents who are struggling to hold on to their houses and their livelihoods. We would be happy to meet with you in Ohio or in Washington to tell you more about the work we are doing on the ground to help your constituents, and to share ways in which the federal government with your leadership will help solve the foreclosure crisis that is at the heart of your district’s struggles and our nation’s economic crisis.

Thank you for your service to Ohio and the nation, and we look forward to hearing from you at your earliest convenience.

Sincerely,

Mary Keith, Cleveland, OH – Ohio ACORN Board Chair

James Moreland, Cincinnati OH – Cinci ACORN Board Chair

This number includes 99 foreclosures in Preble County, 91 in Darke County, 232 in Miami County, which are entirely contained in Ohio’s 8th congressional district. For the portions of those counties that only lie partially in the 8th, Montgomery County had 1257 in the zip codes 45403, 45404, 45414, and 45424; Mercer County had 69 in the zip codes 45822 and 45828; and Butler County had 3006 in the zip codes 45011, 45013, 45014, 45015, 45042, 45044, 45050, 45056, 45067, and 45069; and Clark County had 141 in the zip code 45344.

Murder in Punxsutawney

Groundhog is on the menu today in Punxsutawney.  Following a bitterly cold winter which forecasts more snow today and tomorrow angry, fed up and cold citizens stormed the stage this morning and killed Phil after he saw his shadow.  The good news is that now the lottery groundhog is now the most famous groundhog in Pennsylvania.

Winter began in mid fall last year and continues unabated across the Commonwealth.  The overwhelming sentiment today was for an early spring and a riot sprang up when Phil saw his shadow.

Muhlenberg College Dems Endorse D’Amore and Schlossberg

From the inbox:

Allentown, PA, Feb. 2, 2009 – The Muhlenberg College Democrats today released its endorsement to re-elect Mike D’Amore and elect Mike Schlossberg to the Allentown City Council. D’Amore is the current President of the City Council and has been a consistent voice for young voters throughout the City. Schlossberg, a Muhlenberg alumnus from the Class of 2005, would be the youngest member of the City’s legislative body. D’Amore, along with Democrats Julio Guridy and David Howells, is up for Re-election. Republican Tony Phillips is vacating his council seat to run for Mayor.

D’Amore and Schlossberg are being endorsed because of their understanding of issues relevant to young voters, their interest in community revitalization, and awareness of the specific concerns of Muhlenberg students. College Democrats Co-President Adrian Shanker states “Muhlenberg Students need a City Council committed to community development, specifically in the 19th street area; continuing to reduce crime city wide; and continuing to develop cultural opportunities throughout the city. We are confident that the leadership we need will come from D’Amore and Schlossberg’s voices on City Council.” The College Democrats are hoping to unseat long-serving conservative Democrat David Howells in the Primary, although they realize it is considered a long shot. Shanker states, “Nobody thought Emma Tropiano would be defeated, but she was – and now it is time to defeat David Howells and make sure that we only elect Progressive Democrats in the City of Allentown.”

Muhlenberg College, as an institution, does not endorse political candidates or parties, Student Organizations are allowed to make partisan endorsements. The Muhlenberg College Democrats are a recognized student organization at Muhlenberg College and are a vital force in local Democratic politics. With almost a quarter of the Muhlenberg Student Body locally registered as Democrats, the College Democrats hold a substantive voting block in the West End of Allentown. The College Democrats recorded an 85% student voter turnout in the 2008 General Election.

Cracks In The Freeze

Governor Rendell’s hiring freeze for state employees began developing cracks immediately and now is in full thaw.  It’s just a shame the weather isn’t as good at thawing as Rendell’s policies.  The AP reports that 501 people have been added to the state payroll since the freeze began.  How fair is this to those who have lost their jobs due to cutbacks?

When Ed Rendell creates a job for Dan Surra at the same time others are being frozen out or layed off it appears bitterly hypocritical.  I can understand reasons of public safety, to a point, but with a $3 billion budget gap is anyone really considered safe?  The state budget deficit is increasing weekly while the Governor stubbornly refuses to support or enact one sure cure:  single payer universal health care.  A single payer healthcare system would save state and local governments huge sums of money, save people from getting fired both in and out of state government and completely eliminate Philadelphia’s projected deficit over the next five years.

It would also guarantee healthcare to everyone losing their jobs, create thousands of new jobs in healthcare and save lives.  Ed Rendell is beyond obstinate in opposing this along with the Democratic Majority Leadership including Todd Eachus, Dwight Evans and Keith McCall.  If you’ve lost your job call all four of these men and ask them why they did this to you.  If you’ve lost your healthcare, are uninsured or underinsured also contact them and ask why they oppose your healthcare rights.

Democrats Endorse Judge Candidates

The Pennsylvania Democratic Party endorsed Judges for three appellate bodies yesterday in Harrisburg.  Bad weather kept Friday’s attendance for debates to a trickle but the candidates, and there many, patiently plied the various caucuses all Saturday morning.  I overheard one compare it to speed dating and though it was an apt description.  Each person vying for an endorsement had but a few minutes to address each regional caucus and the various constituent groups then it was on the next.

Superior Court Judge Jack Panella of Easton who is very highly regarded by everyone I’ve discussed him with was unanimously endorsed for Supreme Court.  Judges Anne Lazarus, John Milton Younge and Robert Colville were endorsed for Superior Court.  Jimmy Lynn and Dan Bricmont were endorsed for Commonwealth Court.

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court is the highest court of appeals for all state matters, civil and criminal.  Superior Court decides appeals for county Courts of Common Pleas.  Commonwealth Court decides disputes having to do with state and local government.

I’ll be doing profiles once again on most of the court nominees I am supporting.  I was able to shoot some short videos after yesterday’s meeting and will begin working on producing those today.